Brian Wilson: Don’t mistake honourable defeat for electability

Jeremy Corbyn waves as he leaves the Labour party headquarters in London. Picture: SWNS
Jeremy Corbyn waves as he leaves the Labour party headquarters in London. Picture: SWNS
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Theresa May and Nicola Sturgeon have the same bitter lesson to digest – do not take the voters for granted. By assuming their own invincibility, both have incurred calamitous outcomes which raise questions about their own futures.

Not unreasonably, May believed that Labour’s weakness would guarantee a much larger majority. All the Tories had to do was turn up. We now know that this seriously misjudged the public mood, the fateful impact of the Tory manifesto and also the resilience of Labour.

Sturgeon’s huge error was set in stone before the election was called. She had no reason other than sheer arrogance to trigger demands for a second independence referendum. Evidently, the Sturgeon household had become so detached from reality as to be unaware of the imminent backlash.

No matter how she tried to back-pedal thereafter, Sturgeon had defined the terms of the election in Scotland. Nobody opposed to a second referendum could sensibly vote SNP – and they didn’t. Equally, she under-estimated mounting disenchantment over the SNP’s record in devolved government.

• READ MORE: Kezia Dugdale says Labour can now win any Scottish seat

Twenty-one SNP MPS who thought they were in jobs for life are unemployed because Sturgeon grossly overplayed her hand. In referendum terms, the number of seats won matters less than percentages – and Sturgeon’s achievement has been to reduce the SNP from 50 to 37 per cent, thus destroying the credibility of any second referendum demand.

Those of us who predicted doom for Labour under Jeremy Corbyn were wrong though it would be a huge mistake to confuse honourable defeat with either victory or longer-term electability. Corbyn will presumably stay in place but my guess is that his potential has peaked and the same set of favourable circumstances will not arise again.

The key lesson is that for Labour – old, new and future – is that there is no conflict between a radical manifesto and electability but it is the whole package, including leadership, that will always define the difference between forming a government and falling short.

In Scotland, Kezia Dugdale did well and Labour much better than anyone expected with seven seats and a clutch of close seconds. That provides a strong platform to build on.

Things will not get better any time soon for the SNP because their reduced phalanx of MPs will deliver nothing, their Holyrood performance will continue to disappoint and Sturgeon is now seriously damaged goods. Meanwhile, the death of Labour in Scotland has been greatly exaggerated and steady recovery will continue.